Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: The issue of free speech on college campuses warrants discussion

In a conservative-led panel held by Turning Point USA on Thursday, President Donald Trump was invited to discuss the issue of conservatives being silenced on college campuses and being condemned for their views. Of course, many views held by Trump supporters are notorious for being expressed though hateful rhetoric, ranging from sympathizing with Nazis to calling for the expulsion of any and all immigrants in this country. College administrations have been forced to deal with the matter, even on Boston University’s campus where political views tend to clash in the form of marches and walkouts.

Advising on the matter, the president said in typical Trump fashion that there is a large amount of support for him among colleges, and suggested that free speech under attack. He said the criticism of his supporters is “highly overblown” as support for conservatives on “real college campuses” is prevalent.

Ever since Trump’s election into the presidency, there have been a number of rallies and protests in support of and opposed to the president and his policies. The Parkland shooting sparked a national outcry for change in gun laws in this country, with many NRA members holding onto their guns and getting slammed by liberals who don’t see that as productive to the conversation. Gun laws in this country are a divisive issue, and there are certainly merits to both sides. The problem though is that when a side raises a point that takes us back several decades, it’s not only hurtful, but it also doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the debate. Not that having racist thoughts was OK in the past either, but we have certainly made progress from those times. We can entertain both sides, only if both are respectful and do not insinuate violence or espouse blatantly hateful rhetoric.

Just like we have different interpretations of the Constitution, we should hold the same level of skepticism on the matter of free speech and to what extent it should be granted. Free speech is a privilege in America, this being one of the few countries that permits almost all forms of protest, and we should treat it as such while also remembering that hate speech isn’t protected by free speech.

Perhaps, our president did raise one valid point. For once, he decided to go against the viewpoint of whiny conservatives who claim their voices never get heard. It seem as though the true definition of free speech — the speech that promotes real discourse and calls for change — has been tolerated in colleges.

Many conservative students and media outlets were upset when former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ talk was canceled at the University of California, Berkeley. His speech was supposed to be a part of the student-organized forum entitled “Free Speech Week,” which was meant to encourage views from all sides of the political spectrum.

But Yiannopoulos is notorious for his outwardly hateful views, to the point where administration was probably concerned for their students’ safety. On multiple platforms, he has made Islamophobic and transphobic comments, which are clearly unacceptable stances to promote on a college campus. His talk, despite being cancelled, still provoked violence amongst students and escalated to the point where university security guards had to intervene.

There is distinction between allowing free speech and allowing hate speech, as was the case in Yiannopoulos’s talk. When people cancel events that include someone who happens to be a conservative who have a history of hateful speech, this does not indicate a halt on the concept of free speech.

However, Trump’s tone of indifference to the conversation is troubling, especially coming from a man who said there are “very fine people on both sides” during the Charlottesville protests, one side of which included Nazi sympathizers, fascists and white nationalists. By suggesting there is massive support for him, Trump could be playing into the narrative put forth by the White House that denies criticism from others. According to many Trump officials, nothing is wrong with his presidency. Instead of delving into the matter, Trump does the usual and evades the real crux of the issue, making the regulation of valid free speech seem like a non issue.

Free speech problems won’t change until we embrace this right as a nonpartisan issue. While rallies themselves divide us, their intent is to hear both sides of the conversation. And each side should respect the other’s opinions for there to be discourse and progress in this nation.

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